Hopes for significant improvements to social housing for Indigenous Queenslanders have been dashed yet again with the roll-out of the 2020-21 Federal Budget.

Despite the Federal Government commenting they would be “supporting significant reform in the provision of housing for Indigenous Australians in remote communities”, only Queensland and the Northern Territory were allocated remote housing-specific funding.

Queensland is set to receive $100 million in conjunction with the State Government’s bid to assist with remote housing costs.

The Commonwealth has also allocated $150 million for investment in the Indigenous Home Owner Program (IHOP), a 40-year-old initiative led by Indigenous Business Australia.

In light of the current severe national social housing crisis, which sees Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people ten times more likely to live in social housing, questions have been raised around the allocated funding.

Maureen O’Meara, Chair of Aboriginal Community Housing Ltd, said while she is pleased the Government will be setting aside funding, it’s simply not enough.

“The funding is inadequate to meet the critical shortage of long term, affordable and culturally appropriate, housing especially when compared with non-Indigenous Australians.”

“Indigenous Australians are three times more likely to live in overcrowded dwellings, and the issue is only going to get worse,” she said.

Currently, public housing is the largest provider of social housing to Indigenous households.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, as of June 2018 there were 55,859 Indigenous households in social housing, with 35,619 of those in public housing, 13,817 in state-owned and managed Indigenous housing and 6,423 in community housing.

O’Meara said these figures speak to the “significant undersupply of affordable and suitable housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia”.

Notably, at the time of the 2016 Census, almost one in five (six per cent) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people also lived in remote areas, with around two in five (12 per cent) living in very remote areas.

In contrast, only one per cent of non-Indigenous Australians live in remote areas, with 0.4 per cent living in very remote areas.

“Access to secure and affordable housing is fundamental to physical, mental, and social wellbeing. If one doesn’t have a stable home there is no place to rest, entertain friends, raise a family, have an address to allow oneself or one’s family to go to work, school or study from,” O’Meara said.

“Without stability or choice of where one lives there is little chance of engaging in study, becoming qualified and developing a career. As such there is little chance of acquiring financial and personal independence when one is young and security when one is older.”

O’Meara also noted while the allocated funding to increase Indigenous home ownership is welcome news, housing support should be provided across a “broader spectrum.”

“Not everybody is able to afford a new home,” she said.

“Therefore, the Government should provide housing across a broad spectrum from public, social and community housing, to private rentals and home ownership. Because until a holistic approach to housing is adopted a lot of Indigenous Australians will be left behind in having the same housing opportunities as other Australians.”

While there has been substantial growth in Indigenous home ownership (with a mortgage) over the past 15 years, the funding misses the mark in bettering housing opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Queenslanders on a larger scale.

As part of the three-year investment into IHOP, 360 new construction home loans will be supported over the next three years.

The investment in the program is said to break down the barriers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in buying a home in regional Australia, allowing for flexible loans and concessional interest rates.

The Commonwealth believes these measures will improve home ownership nationally and assist with housing accessibility.

They also believe the program will aid the Closing the Gap target on housing, which aims to secure 88 per cent of Indigenous Australians with safe and non-crowded housing by 2031.

O’Meara said in light of current statistics, the Closing the Gap target is ambitious and won’t be catalysed by the funding announced in the recent Federal Budget.

“It’s inadequate to address the housing need within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to make a demonstrable impact on the issue of overcrowding.”

She said more commitment and funding is needed from all levels of government to address the critical need for affordable and appropriate housing.

“The Government has the opportunity to respond to the broad call for more social and affordable housing next year. The issue will not go away,” she said.

The Department of Housing and Public Works provided NIT with a statement:

“The Australian Government’s payment of $105 million, comprising $5 million in 2019-20 and $100 million in 2020-21, complements the Queensland commitment of $40 million in 2019 to an interim remote housing program. Housing construction will be delivered through an agreed partnership approach with local community Councils,” said a spokesperson for the Department.

By Imogen Kars